Point guards get assists. Centers get rebounds. It is a simple premise born out of reality: in basketball, certain positions are tailored to accrue certain statistics. By and large, it continues to hold true. The point guards still rack up the most assists while the big men crash the boards. The problem is, sometimes you could really use some assists and a center to round out your roster. Where do you go then?
Luckily, there are players out there offering contributions in categories that their positional peers are not. While they are fun to appreciate for their sheer novelty, these players also offer a crucial service to fantasy owners. Let’s say you drafted John Wall and Jimmy Butler in the first two rounds of your draft. These are stellar players that will get you points, assists, and steals for days. The problem is, you just drafted a guard and a wing that combine for less three-pointers per game than Trevor Ariza. How are you going to make up that difference?
There are two approaches. Sure, you could use your upcoming picks on three-point specialists like Khris Middleton and Otto Porter, but this approach might leave you feeling heavy at the perimeter positions and light when it comes to your big men. What if I said that Brook Lopez is the guy for you?
Last year, Lopez hit 1.8 three-pointers per game as a center. Not only will he likely be available in the fourth round of your draft, he gives you more of a leg up on other centers than Middleton will offer you over other wings. When worst comes to worst, you’ll always be able to find a shooting guard off of waivers that can give you a few three-pointers per week, but that is an advantage that is available to everybody in your league. When it comes down to giving yourself an edge over your competition, maybe you should think about getting a player that will be a little bit harder to replace.
With that long explanation in tow, let’s take a look at the players that can offer you something unique this season, starting with points and making our way through the whole box score right on down to blocks.
Okay, I must confess: this was a bad category to start with. When it comes to who scores points in the NBA, there is very little distinguishing the positions. From point guard to center, you should be able to find somebody that can get the job done. However, it can be a bit of a trick to get prominent scorers beyond the first few rounds, as the top bucketeers tend to be drafted the highest.
Premier among them is Andrew Wiggins, who you should be able to take in the fifth or sixth. Though the arrivals of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague in Minnesota could cut into Wiggins’ usage this season, he still projects to get about 20 points per game. This should make him a standout scorer among available options after the first few rounds. He does not offer much in any other category, but he is also not a real drain in any area.
Available in a similar area of the draft but slightly different statistically is Devin Booker, who offers meaningful contributions in areas like three-pointers, free throw percentage, and assists, but runs the risk of hurting your field goal percentage. If your league uses turnovers as a ninth category, he will hurt you there as well. However, he is a proven scorer with fewer impediments to his usage than Wiggins.
Towards the middle of the draft, Evan Fournier becomes an attractive option for teams looking to add some scoring off the bench. He has seen his scoring averages rise each season he’s been in the league, up to 17.2 last year. His contributions are modest beyond his points and three-point shooting, but he is absolutely a player to snipe later on if you are short on buckets as the draft begins to wind down.
Lastly, for much deeper sleepers you can look to Jordan Clarkson and Buddy Hield. Clarkson is entering his age 25 season and at this point we more or less know what he is. You can expect about 15 points and a steal from him every game to go along with one or two makes from beyond the arc. He should also be available towards the end of your draft, making him an attractive insurance policy if you are uncertain about your scoring. Hield, on the other hand, is a breakout candidate that will probably make it to waivers in leagues with 10 or 12 teams. He saw his numbers improve in a remarkable way after being traded to Sacramento in the DeMarcus Cousins deal, going from 8.6 points per game to 15.1. It is clear that the Kings value him as one of their top assets, so expect him to be given the opportunity to succeed. He is a highly recommended bench stash for owners that want to roll the dice.
Field Goal Percentage
Deceptively rare are perimeter scorers that also offer a boost in the sometimes underappreciated category of field goal percentage. Sure, you are in a good position if you land Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James, but there are more creative options for owners that end up without one of those studs as their team’s ringer.
Last year, only five players managed to shoot over 45 percent from the field while averaging 20 points, five assists, and two made threes. Those players were Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, and Isaiah Thomas. While all of them offer you a legitimate scoring option that won’t hurt your team’s field goal percentage, it is Irving that managed to take the most shots out of this group while also converting at the highest rate. Just something to keep in mind if you want a top point guard that won’t hurt your team’s shooting.
Slightly later in your draft you can find Goran Dragic, who has made at least 47 percent of his shots in each of the last four seasons despite the burden of being his team’s primary scoring option. Further down still you will be able to find the less proven Seth Curry, who made 48.1 percent of his shots in his breakout season in Dallas under Rick Carlisle last year. While the addition of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. could cramp Curry’s style a bit, he looks like a brilliant play for owners that want an efficient scoring point guard. If Smith faces growing pains during his rookie season, we may see Curry exceed expectations for the second time in as many years.
At the shooting guard position, you can get Bradley Beal and C.J. McCollum in the third round. Both made over 48 percent of their shots last season, but it should be noted that this was a breakout mark for both players. Going fifty spots later is Gary Harris, who is coming off of a season in which he scored 17.2 points per game on 50.2 percent shooting. In the season prior, he hit 46.9 percent of his shots. Not only is Harris the option that can more safely be expected to aid your team’s field goal percentage, he’ll also be available when you have a much better idea of what your team actually looks like.
Beyond the studs mentioned in this section’s introductory paragraph, there are a few small forwards available towards the end of the draft that could help your team shoot well. Most reliably there is Andre Iguodala, who will be returning to the Warriors this season. While he will be turning 34, age hasn’t hampered efficiency for Iggy, who has reaped the benefits of Golden State’s unstoppable offense. Offering similar numbers to Iguodala is T.J. Warren, who is coming off of a breakout season for the Suns. He shoots efficiently while contributing modestly across the board. He makes sense for an owner that is willing to take a small risk, whereas Iguodala is ideal for the owner that wants to know exactly what they are getting on draft day.
Less popular but more intriguing than these players is Maurice Harkless, who will be playing his third season in Portland after a small breakout in his 2016-17 campaign. He managed to score 10.0 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting while offering solid numbers in blocks and steals. He is a sneaky addition that seems to be consistently underappreciated, so do yourself a favor and earmark him before your draft.
Free Throw Percentage
The most common punt stat thanks to players like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, free throw percentage is rarely seen as a priority category by owners on draft night. This is a mistake. Teams can quietly do themselves a favor by bolstering their great shooters with big men that can convert their free throws.
Premier bigs Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and Jokic have proven that they can contribute from the line. If you land one of them, you’re off to a commendable start. A couple of rounds later, you can trust Marc Gasol and Lopez to give you stats without hurting you at the line. Conversely, you can give up some blocks and field goal percentage for Kevin Love, who will give you an even bigger boost at the line.
Perhaps the last true center you can count on to be a real positive from the line is Jonas Valanciunas. He comes with plenty of question marks as a player that generally has better numbers than actual on-court basketball usefulness, but he has at least consistently outpaced his fantasy draft position.
The power forward position offers more flexibility, as the prevalence of stretch fours has made it far easier to get capable shooters at this position than was the case in the past. In the middle of the draft you can acquire Tobias Harris, who continues to be one of the most balanced fantasy players in the NBA. If your league gives Harrison Barnes eligibility at PF, he is an even more useful player for your free throw percentage.
If you really want to get some bang for your buck, the man for you is the ridiculously reliable and perpetually underappreciated Marvin Williams. While he does not take many shots from the free throw line and he is unlikely to match his career-high 87.3 percent mark from last season, he has shown that his percentages will always hover in the high-seventies to low-eighties region. His only weakness is his field goal percentage, but he’s shown that he can even be respectable in that category. It is remarkable to get that kind of across the board production from a player that most early rankings see as barely fitting into the top 100 players. If you want to keep your free throw percentage alive at the power forward spot without giving anything up, Williams is a great answer.
Big men that can shoot the ball from deep are becoming more common every year, which is great news for owners that need to supplement non-shooting studs like Butler and Wall. In the first few rounds, Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, Gasol, and Lopez can all give you threes at a rate that other useful centers won’t match. If Serge Ibaka has center eligibility on your host site, he is a great option as well.
In order to get another legitimate center that can actually sling threes with meaningful volume, you’ll be best off waiting for Frank Kaminsky in the final rounds of your draft. He is not useful in any other category and will cause you some real damage in the field goal percentage department, but if you need threes out of a center, he is there for you. The drastic gap between available centers that can shoot threes is why I highly recommend taking Porzingis or Lopez if you find yourself in need of a shooting big man after the first few rounds.
Some leagues will be kind enough to mark Ryan Anderson with center eligibility, which gives you another late-round alternative to Kaminsky. Anderson is a considerably better shooter than Kaminsky and remains one of the main three-point options at the power forward position even if he doesn’t have center eligibility. However, he comes with many of the same pitfalls and is far from ideal. Still, he’ll give you deep buckets in a pinch.
Less dramatic options at power forward include the aforementioned Tobias Harris and Williams, whose versatility make them some of the most inoffensive players an owner can have on their roster. Similar to Kamisnky and Anderson, but without any chance for center eligibility, are Ersan Ilyasova and Nikola Mirotic. Both will be available late in your draft and both can give you three-pointers, but understand that if you take them your field goal percentage will suffer.
The problem with some of the premier big men in fantasy is that the versatile ones often skimp in their traditional stats. It’s just a sacrifice owners make when drafting them. If you take Lopez or Gasol, you are going to be at a disadvantage in rebounds next to the owners that drafted Drummond and Rudy Gobert, and it’ll be too late for you to land a counting stat superstar if you don’t already have one. That is a tough position to be in, but it can happen to any owner depending on the flow of their draft.
Your options for recovery may be limited at point guard. Patrick Beverley quietly snagged 5.9 rebounds per game last season, but the next-best average of his career was 4.2 in 2014-15. He’ll still give you a boost, but he won’t make up your center’s shortcomings on his own. Elfrid Payton pulled down 4.7 rebounds per game last year and seems like a comfortable candidate to average at least four this year. Both are fine fantasy players, but after the first few rounds you may have trouble getting a major rebounding edge at point guard.
If Nicolas Batum ends up playing shooting guard again this season, he becomes an immediate candidate to help from that position. He has proven that he can consistently pull down around six rebounds per game without forcing you to make concessions in any category but field goal percentage.
The small forward position is ultimately where the best solutions lie. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not a sexy fantasy option, but he consistently produces some of the best defensive numbers at his position while only hurting owners in three-pointers. He looks to be one of the better values available this season.
If you want a player that is slightly less helpful on the glass but more dynamic almost everywhere else, you can take Trevor Ariza. You’ll have to commit to him four or five rounds earlier than for MKG, but he does offer you a more complete style of production.
Perhaps the best option of all is Robert Covington, who offers even better defensive numbers than Kidd-Gilchrist while still making a couple of three-pointers per game. His field goal percentages can be atrocious sometimes, but he gives you more than he takes away. He is likely to be valued similarly to Ariza in most leagues, but is much younger with less risk of regression.
There is no statistic dominated more by a single position than assists. Outside of a few superstars, it can be almost impossible to beef up this category outside of the point guard position. Key word: almost.
The shooting guard position is full of slick passers, many of whom spend time playing the point. Towards the end of your draft, Marcus Smart may be one of the top candidates out there. While the addition of Gordon Hayward could cut into some of Smart’s assist opportunities, I wouldn’t count on a significant drop off from his average of 4.6 from last season. An alternative option is Malcolm Brogdon, who averaged 4.2 assists per game as a rookie and looks primed to continue producing in that area. Best of all, he will be available even later than Smart.
The small forward position is top heavy with assist-getters, as Antetokounmpo and LeBron signify the obvious upper tier of passing forwards. Among the wings that should split time between small forward and shooting guard, Butler figures to be a consistent contributor.
However, there is still a solution in the scenario that you need assists later in your draft, as Batum has been passing the ball effectively for years. Last season he hit his career high with 5.9 assists per game. It is entirely fair to expect similar production from him this year.
If you aren’t able to nab Batum in the fifth round or so, you’ll have to wait for Iguodala in the latter stages of your draft. He is a significant downgrade as a passer, but has proven that he can be trusted for about four per game. With so many mouths to feed on the Warriors, he is a very safe bet.
The power forward position is also top-heavy, with Draymond Green leading the pack as a third rounder with the potential to give you point guard-level assist numbers. A small downgrade is available a little bit later in Blake Griffin, who has also shown the ability get about five assists every game.
The best deep sleeper to target for assists at power forward is Julius Randle, who brought his average up from 1.8 to 3.6 last season. He has had his ups and downs as a pro and is a prime candidate to be overdrafted this season, but he does offer upside as a passer.
The center position is perhaps the most interesting place to add assists, as many centers will struggle to get any. The leader of the pack is Jokic, who is a generational talent as far as passing big men go. He takes the throne of best passing big man from Gasol, who managed a career-high last season with 4.6 per game.
Available a round or two after Gasol, Al Horford also set a career-high last season by dishing out 5.0 dimes per game last year. The next-best mark of his career was 3.5 back in the 2010-11 season, so it is fair to be skeptical of whether Horford has it in him to repeat last year’s performance, but it’s not crazy to think he should be able to get at least four per game.
If you’re looking for a deep sleeper, Mason Plumlee has been getting solid assist numbers for a few years now. He saw his average drop when traded to Denver, where he will be again this year. He should be viewed as a worst-case scenario for owners in deeper leagues looking for assists, as he figures to get even fewer minutes than he did last season now that Paul Millsap is in town. Still, he is one of the few centers to have at least proven that he can pass the ball effectively, and he will be in a system that will be prioritizing passing from their big men. Don’t count on numbers from Plumlee, but keep your eye on him.
Aside from points, steals may be the most evenly distributed statistic among positions. While point guards are the first in line for swipes, good defenders are able to accrue steals no matter whom they are regularly defending. Still, you can expect to have the hardest time finding big men to get steals for you.
The most obvious exception is Green, who is a top-shelf thief. As mentioned earlier on, Covington is another forward that regularly puts up elite defensive numbers. The difference is that Covington should be available about four rounds later. A couple of rounds after that, Thaddeus Young has been showing off his small ball power forward chops for years now, and picking up some of the best steals numbers in the game (non-point guard division) the entire time.
If you’re looking for a true big man to get you steals, your best bet is Drummond, who is coming off of his second straight year getting 1.5 per game. Yes, you’ll have to deal with what he does to your free throw percentage, but there’s a reason people keep drafting him: he puts up all kinds of numbers elsewhere. There are some concerns about whether he is all that useful outside of his box score performances, but it seems that Detroit doesn’t have a better alternative to him at the present moment.
In the highest tier of centers, Cousins and Davis are both excellent contributors in this category, but you know who is just as proven at picking up steals despite being available about 100 picks later? Greg Monroe.
Yes, there are a lot of things to worry about with Monroe. He played fewer minutes last season than any other in his career because of how outdated his game is. He’s a low post bruiser that plays the way your grandpa thinks all big men should (minus his inability to protect the rim, which your grandpa hates). Nonetheless, Monroe gets steals. As an added bonus, he doesn’t do much damage to your free throw percentage. Given how late he’ll be drafted, Monroe is a player to add to your list of unsexy sleepers that will get the job done.
Just as much as it is the case with assists and point guards, blocks are hard to replace outside of the center position. There are a few high-end forwards that pile up every stat, but fewer unorthodox specialists than one would hope.
Perhaps the biggest exception is Danny Green, who tends to hover just below a block per game as a shooting guard. That may not seem like much, but consider that the next best shot-blocking two in the league last year was McCollum, who got 0.5 per game. Given how reliably Danny Green has proven that he can get these numbers, you’re giving yourself a noticeable advantage when you draft him.
While there are really no helpful shot-blocking options at point guard (Wall and Tyler Johnson were both decent last season, but neither has proven they are able to consistently provide a meaningful edge over there peers), there are quite a few small forwards that can get the job done.
At the top of the list, Antetokounmpo has proven to be a beast in picking up this stat. Durant is also quietly very helpful in his ability to give his owners blocks. Draymond Green should also have SF eligibility, which would make him a prime option. The problem is, these guys are going to be drafted earlier than you will know if you need some extra shot blocking.
Let me (re)introduce you to a few players. Kidd-Gilchrist will be available late in your draft, and this is another category where he will give you a boost. Having similar success as a shot-blocker over the last few seasons is Covington, who is the better overall fantasy player but tougher to acquire because of it. The last familiar face to remember is Harkless, who has shown that he can get almost a block per game when he is given adequate minutes.
In much deeper leagues, Andre Roberson becomes a very compelling option for his shot-blocking stats, especially in the likely scenario that he retains shooting guard eligibility. The problem with him is everything else, rendering him unplayable in leagues with less than 14 teams.